BMI had first come to Boral's attention in the 1970s. The company operated quarries in New South Wales in its own right and owned 50 per cent of Ready Mixed Concrete (RMC) which operated Australia-wide with CSR. The agreement between BMI and CSR was restrictive to BMI. Under the contract BMI could have concrete and quarrying operations only in New South Wales. Boral was not interested in taking over BMI with this condition attached. In 1981 BMI and CSR decided to split RMC. BMI took assets which gave them operations in Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania as well as in the United Kingdom and Indonesia; CSR took the remaining RMC operations.

As a result, BMI became a large operating company, but it made some bad business decisions. Before superannuation was common to the whole of the Australian workforce, BMI introduced a superannuation scheme from shop floor to board level. All BMI employees were members, from directors, right through management to blue-collar workers. The company's contribution was 11 per cent of wages, with no contribution from the individuals. At the time an 11 per cent surcharge on wages was then enough to make most businesses uncompetitive, and BMI became just that. The superannuation scheme adversely affected the company's profits. Neal said, 'They were paying more than they could afford in superannuation - particularly blue-collar superannuation - at a time when their competitors either didn't have it at all, or it was on a much more modest scale.'

At about the same time, Boral had introduced a scheme - the Boral Gas Provident Fund - which it extended to all workers throughout the Boral Group. A worker who elected to join agreed to pay from 1 to 4 per cent of his or her salary into the fund and this amount was matched by the relevant Boral subsidiary company. It was an accumulation fund, so the maximum cost to Boral was 4 per cent for each employee. Under the scheme, if workers resigned before retirement they forfeited the company's contribution, though they received their personal contributions over their period of employment. About 70 per cent of the Group's employees joined the scheme when it was introduced.

  De Martin and Gasparini became part of Boral with the acquisition of BMI in 1982. BMI had taken over the company in 1961. De Martin and Gasparini had been involved in many major construction projects, particularly in the Sydney metropolitan area since the 1930s. This photograph shows the staff outside the workshops in 1956.  
    How BMI and Boral compared.

Once BMI and CSR carved up RMC, Boral's interest was rekindled. BMI was at this stage a company of about the same size and asset value as Boral. For many years, CSR had a large BMI shareholding, which they had agreed not to sell without notifying that company first, so Boral began acquiring shares independently on the stock market. During the takeover, in October 1982, Caltex issued a press statement which advised it was selling its 11 per cent shareholding in Boral to fifteen institutional investors. It said in part:

  Directors of Caltex said the company had enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Boral and had been very satisfied with its investment. The decision to sell was in line with the Company's policy to rationalise its activities and interests. In taking the decision to sell, the Board had in no way been influenced by Boral's current takeover of BMI Limited, nor did it lack confidence in any way in the continuation of Boral's highly successful performance.

  The takeover of BMI was very significant for Boral's growth and future development. As a result, Boral attained the leading market position in building and construction materials, and strengthened its operations in other states. BMI also gave Boral bases in the United Kingdom and Indonesia.

  BMI History

In 1883, Sterring and Partners opened a gravel pit on a bend in the Nepean river near Emu Plains in Sydney's far west. Sydney was experiencing a building boom and the colony's growth meant opportunities for enterprising individuals. New roads were being constructed and existing dray tracks needed upgrading as the early settlers spread out from Farm Cove across the plains to Parramatta and beyond.

In 1903 The Emu and Prospect Road Gravel and Metal Company was formed. This company had been through a number of name changes and had already purchased Sterring's gravel pit in 1885. This name change reflected the company's purchase of nearby Prospect Hill, where hard rock had been quarried since the colony was first established.

  In 1919, the Prospect quarry was subsequently acquired by New South Wales Blue Metal Company. A new company was then incorporated in 1921, the forerunner of BMI, named New South Wales Associated Blue Metal Quarries Limited. The company took over the operations at Prospect as well as quarries at Minnamurra and Bombo on the south coast of New South Wales. These south coast purchases also provided a transport vessel, the SS Dunmore.

The New South Wales south coast was particularly rich in high-quality basalt, and deposits around Kiama had been quarried since the mid-1800s. Shipping was the only practical method of moving quarry products from Kiama to the Sydney market, and this method of transport has been used periodically up to the present day.

In 1935, due to the Great Depression, the New South Wales government, which also had quarrying operations at Kiama and Bombo, decided to sell. The deal included a ship, the SS Bombo, to transport the basalt to Sydney. Money was tight and no single company could afford to purchase the state government's operations. A joint venture company known as Quarries Pty Limited was formed. This saw the amalgamation of many of the small hard rock quarries and river gravel deposit operators on the south coast of New South Wales and the Sydney metropolitan area. Shares in this venture cost ninepence; the new partners did not have the liquidity to buy them outright. The Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) provided the shortfall of funds for the purchase, after obtaining the appropriate guarantees from each participant.


One of the first lorries used at Prospect quarry in the early 1900s.

  Blue Metal and Gravel Limited (BMG) was a marketing company formed in 1935 to sell the aggregate for Quarries Pty Ltd. (The New South Wales Companies Office must have been confused by the quarrying industry's use of the words 'Blue Metal', since so many early quarrying companies included them in their names.)

During the Depression and World War II, BMG gradually closed down most of its smaller south coast quarries. The company decided to concentrate on developing the first-class basalt at its Dunmore quarry and the Prospect quarry at Greystanes in Sydney's west. Boral continues to operate both quarries.

  An excellent example of columnar basalt, which is very characteristic of south coast quarries.  

  Columnar basalt being blasted down.  
  SS Bombo Tragedy

For many years the SS Bombo transported blue metal aggregate in 600-ton loads from Kiama harbour to Blackwattle Bay in Sydney. In 1940 both the SS Dunmore and SS Bombo were commandeered by the Royal Australian Navy for service off Australia's northern coastline. There is no record of the fate of the SS Dunmore, but the SS Bombo was returned to BMG in July 1947 and, after a complete refit, resumed the Kiama-to-Sydney blue metal run.


  The ill-fated
SS Bombo.
  During a severe south-easterly storm in 1949, the Bombo foundered at night off Wollongong while trying to take shelter in Port Kembla harbour. The ship was in excellent condition, but the load of 3/4-inch aggregate, in the partly filled forward hold, shifted in the big seas. The movement of the cargo was so rapid that there was no time to send out a distress call. The Bombo rolled over and sank within minutes; the crew had no time even to launch the lifeboats. The first alert of the ship sinking came when the survivors made it ashore the following morning. The captain and eleven of the fourteen crew died in the tragedy.

In 1951, BMG began a program of diversification, which saw the formation of three subsidiary companies: Howard Engineering to establish a repair and maintenance depot for company plants; Bituminous Pavements to operate a hot mix bitumen plant at Prospect and to contract for the laying of asphalt; and Mobile Plant to operate road vehicles for transporting quarry and other products. In 1952, Blue Metal Industries was registered as a holding company for these expanding interests. However, the reorganisation of the company's capital structure was not finalised until 1954 because of the generally unstable economic environment. Not until 1978 was the name officially changed to BMI Limited.

Prospect Hill


The shipping docket used as evidence during the inquiry into the tragedy was unsigned by the captain, but proved that the ship had not been overloaded in 1949.
  Prospect Hill, the site of the BMI Quarry, was the highest point between Sydney and the Blue Mountains, and in the early days of the colony was used as a navigational landmark. In April 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip and his party came to Parramatta and five days later ascended a small hill with extensive views of the surrounding area. Phillip named it 'Bellevue', which was translated as 'fine prospect', from this the general area became known as Prospect.


  Many people are under the misconception that quarrying of blue metal (a term used in the early days of the colony, when settlers used any hard rock in the Sydney region for the simple roads that were made) on Prospect Hill began with the construction of the wall and aqueducts for Prospect reservoir. Historical records show that quarrying took place on the intrusion long before this and, as early as the 1820s, local roads were partly paved with broken grey dolerite from the surface of Prospect Hill.

In 1832, Charles Darwin, the English naturalist and geologist famous for writing Origin of the Species, visited Prospect Hill to observe the dolerite. Darwin mentioned it in his book, The Voyage of the Beagle.

  In the early 1900s laying tar roads was labour-intensive work.  

  Bituminous Pavements Pty Ltd was formed in 1952. This is its first plant at Prospect quarry. The company name was later changed to Bitupave.  
  William Lawson, the explorer, acquired a grant of some five hundred acres including Prospect Hill, in 1808. In 1846, his third son Nelson built an extensive house there which he called Greystanes House. Prospect dolerite has a tendency to weather to a grey colour and Lawson, who was of Scottish origin, called stone `stane', hence the name Greystanes. This in turn provided a name for the adjacent suburb when it was established.

During the 1880s, hundreds of workers came to build the new reservoir at Prospect, to provide clean, plentiful water to the growing population of Sydney. The colony's water supply had been inadequate since the 1850s. The water situation eventually became so serious that Sydneysiders were forced to queue day and night at local fountains to replenish their water supply.

Industrial development in the colony was also hampered because of the general water shortage.


  Products were hauled from the Prospect quarry by small locomotives that operated over a private railway line from Prospect to Toongabbie station.  
  Greystanes House was set on the slopes of Prospect Hill, overlooking the surrounding farms and grazing lands. This magnificent home was finally demolished in 1946 after falling into disrepair. The area where it stood has been partially quarried, though the Moreton Bay fig tree that stood beside it remains and has a conservation order on it. During World War II the US Army established a camp on part of the Greystanes estate. It is understood that this contributed to the degeneration of the building, which was demolished by order in 1946. Some of the original bricks from the house and iron-work from the driveway have been incorporated in the front entry of Greystanes High School. The Boral Resources main gate on Greystanes Road has been moved slightly to the south to preserve intact the original entrance to Greystanes House.

  Gold on Prospect Hill - Hooper's Folly

One afternoon in 1961, Ron Parrot, Prospect Quarry's manager, was sitting quietly in his office at Greystanes. Bob Hooper, Prospect Quarry's foreman, suddenly burst in unannounced to tell him that gold had been discovered on Prospect Hill. Parrot said that he found that hard to believe, but Hooper was insistent. Furthermore, Hooper assured Parrot, unless he agreed immediately to the whole of Prospect Hill being pegged out with gold leases, the company could expect an influx of hundreds of gold prospectors, all staking their claims on Prospect Hill - something like the gold rushes of the 1850s and 1860s.

Hooper was a mining engineer by trade who had previously worked in Western Australia in the goldmining industry. With this in mind, Parrot reluctantly agreed to the expenditure of quite a large sum of money to take out some gold mining leases - which had to be purchased in 25-acre lots. The quarrymen pegged out BMI's Prospect Hill quarry, and then convinced themselves that the gold-bearing vein was running in the direction of Styles Blue Metal Quarry, an adjoining business. Caught in gold fever, and in the middle of the night, they climbed over the fence and pegged out Styles Quarry as well.


A verandah of Greystanes House circa 1920.
  When Hooper staked out Styles Quarry, all hell broke loose between RMC and BMI. Sam Stirling, RMC's managing director, had secretly been negotiating to buy Styles Blue Metal and Stirling interpreted the staking out of the quarry as a deliberate attempt to prevent the sale going through. After tempers cooled, the whole matter was explained and Stirling acquired Styles Quarry for RMC.

Secure in the knowledge that they had the gold deposit claimed, Hooper set about taking an ore assay sample to confirm their find. The first sample indicated that there was indeed gold in payable quantities in Prospect Hill. However, to be sure, a second assay sample was taken which was negative, effectively quashing the potential millionaires' hopes. The site where the `gold' was discovered was a heavily mineralised shear zone, which became known as 'Hooper's Folly'.


The International Hough Payline Field Demonstration at Prospect quarry in 1961, about the time of Hooper's Folly. (Above and below)
  When Boral acquired BMI, it immediately found itself in the timber business. It now owned Allen Taylor and Co. Limited which had been taken over by BMI in 1970. Brian Saunders remembers: `Boral had a fairly open view to whether or not to keep the timber business when they took over BMI. Obviously it wasn't able to slot in as easily to the scheme of things as quarrying, for example.'


  His department was given the task of researching the timber industry. At the time, there was some speculation that timber softwood supplies would exceed worldwide demand in the next decade. This prediction was based on the fact that North America had abundant softwood supplies. Saunders recalls, 'What happened was that the environmental groups there [in the United States] through extensive government lobbying, cut off the supply'.

In the late 1970s, BMI realised that a huge resource was being wasted in the form of sawmill residue or woodchips. These could be used to create pulp for paper production, during which wood must be broken down to a pliable yet strong form. Chipping wood into pieces roughly the size of a fifty-cent piece is the first stage in this process.

Sawmillers Exports was incorporated in a joint venture between BMI and two Japanese companies to export woodchips to that country. In 1978 the Federal and New South Wales governments approved the proposal and the first shipment of woodchips was made in 1981.

Timber, woodchipping in particular, was a controversial area for Boral. The conservation movement had been pressuring governments to abandon it since the 1970s. Finally, in 1982, after a decade of debate and intense lobbying by environmentalists, New South Wales Labor Premier Neville Wran, produced the 'Rainforest Decision'. This resulted in a period of turmoil for the timber industry, which saw a general decrease in quotas and volumes. Instead of arguing Boral's case to get government agreement, Eric Neal accepted the principle of sustained yields, value-adding and the general rationalisation of Boral's timber interests. The company closed or sold five sawmills south of Nowra on the New South Wales south coast and closed a number of small north coast mills as well. Boral also undertook wood sale agreements and accepted responsibility for maintaining regional employment in areas where the company operated.

Loading woodchips for export (1983 annual report).
Allen Taylor History

Allen Taylor was born in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, in 1864. He started work at the age of ten as a 'nipper and messenger' for a railway contractor. Later he worked twelve hours a day as a railway construction labourer on several lines, including the south coast of New South Wales. Taylor eventually became a contractor in his own right and, having saved some money, decided to move to Sydney to attend night school and improve his education.

He became a timber and shipping agent early in 1892, running his business from his home in the Sydney suburb of Annandale until 1895. By that time the business had grown enough for him to open an office at Union Street, Pyrmont.

Interested in local government from an early age, Taylor became an alderman with Annandale Council in 1894. In 1902 he was elected to the Sydney City Council as the alderman for Pyrmont Ward. He served continuously for ten years and as Lord Mayor of Sydney for six years and was knighted for his contribution to civic affairs in 1911. Taylor Square was named in his honour, and he is credited with bringing many improvements to the Sydney metropolitan area.


Allen Taylor served as Sydney's Lord Mayor in 1905-6 and again in 1909-12 (with permission Sydney City Council Archives).

  Taylor Square was named in honour of Allen Taylor who was Lord Mayor of Sydney for six years (State Library of New South Wales).  
  The early success of the timber business was attributable to Taylor's talents as a salesman and administrator. He would canvass all the timber merchants around Sydney, soliciting orders and asking for specifications. Then he would place orders with north and south coast sawmills, making clear when they required delivery. As soon as Taylor found out when the order would be ready, he arranged for its prompt shipment to Sydney. By insisting that his instructions to sawmills and shipping agents were carried out to the letter, Taylor's reputation for reliability grew rapidly, and so did the business.

In February 1905 the firm was incorporated as a public company - Allen Taylor and Company Limited - the seven original shareholders all being members of the Taylor family or employees of the company. The following year shares were taken up by members of the public. In 1907 the company bought the first of its sawmills at Nambucca on the north coast of New South Wales, adding a second at Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, in 1909.
The company won valuable contracts to supply the Public Works Department with sawn hardwood in 1913. The following year, the company successfully tendered to supply sawn hardwood, tallow wood, blackbutt, hewn ironbark and wood paving blocks to the New South Wales railways for the Sydney area. The business continued to flourish into the 1920s. Charges of collusion between Allen Taylor and the Railways Department (brought by persons described by the company as 'disgruntled tenderers') led to a Commission of Enquiry appointed by New South Wales Premier Jack Lang. As the company records succinctly said, 'Nothing came out of the commission'. One of the more interesting contracts the company won during that controversial time was to supply a vast quantity of timber for decking and sleepers for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

By 1930, the start of the Great Depression, business was described in a report to the board of directors as 'very dull', and the following year the situation became serious. One debtor after another went into liquidation, business was painfully slow and prices uneconomically low. Drastic measures were taken, salaries and directors' fees were slashed and some assets were sold, belt-tightening that helped the company survive. It was not until 1935 that business began to improve; as late as 1938 it was reported that 'money is very hard to collect'.

Taylor, who had indicated he would like to retire on several occasions, had always been persuaded to remain chairman of the company (though he relinquished the position of managing director), died suddenly on 30 September 1940. World War II had brought the company back into full production, with timber being supplied to the Department of Defence as well as Allen Taylor's regular clientele. Expansion continued during the war years, despite stringent government controls and manpower shortages.

By 1970 Allen Taylor's sawmills and associated contractors to the company were flourishing throughout New South Wales. In that year BMI took over the business.

Allen Taylor specialised in hardwood sawmilling and BMI's management believed there were long-term advantages in the softwood market. In 1978, BMI acquired Timber Industries Limited which was based in Oberon, New South Wales, and had recently converted its hardwood mill to softwood.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction. Allen Taylor provided much of the timber used in its decking (State Library of New South Wales).
The Story of Timber Industries Limited

In 1926 Hugh Cotton went into business as an agent dealing in timber mining supplies on the Broken Hill minefields. At the time 95 per cent of the timber used in the mines was Oregon, imported from America. Only the mine shaft and ore chute linings were made of Australian timber. Cotton could not understand why New South Wales hardwoods were not used, and in 1936 he was given permission to test their use in the mines. He contracted with East Coast Mills and was appointed the agent for Heron's Creek Timber Mills Pty Ltd at Port Macquarie.
Oregon for mineshafts being railed to Broken Hill.
In 1931 Bob Cotton (later Sir Robert Cotton, Federal Government Minister and Australian Ambassador to the United States) went into part¬nership with his father, trading as HLC Cotton and Son. They expanded the business, supplying the North Mine Limited at Broken Hill. The mill at Heron's Creek was not large enough to supply the needs of the three mines at Broken Hill and when World War II began in September 1939 imports of oregon were curtailed and by 1942 there was a timber supply crisis.

With money borrowed from North Broken Hill, Cotton and his father bought a sawmill licence from an Oberon partnership, Cunynghame and Starr, who had a hardwood mill on the Jenolan Caves Road. In 1943 Timber Industries was formed near the town of Oberon and the first log cutters and haulers were hired to supply the mill. Later the same year the mill started production. Together with Heron's Creek Mill, Koopers Mill at Batlow, and later WJ Machines Mill at Wingham, Timber Industries supplied the Broken Hill mines for the rest of the war. These operations were so successful that at war's end importing American timber was not resumed.

In the 1950s the Cottons realised that the New South Wales hardwood supply was finite and the Oberon mill was upgraded to cut both softwood (radiata pine) and hardwood. After a while softwood milling began to take over. By 1978, the last hardwood log had been milled and BMI bought Timber Industries from the Cotton family.


Loggers mark a tree for felling.

  Timber Industries installed Australia's first machine stress grader in a production line. This provided a mechanical means of testing the strength and flexibility of the wood under load. Before this, timber graders were used to visually assess the wood, using the knots in the planks as the main indicator of the woods' strength. The machine stress grader was invented by the Forestry Commission of New South Wales Division of Wood Technology. Using this innovation, in conjunction with a prefabricated roof truss production line to make roof frameworks, Timber Industries was the first company to market radiata pine roof trusses in New South Wales. The Housing Commission became one of the company's biggest customers. When BMI bought Timber Industries in 1978 the business underwent a period of rationalisation and improvement and the sawmill's capacity was increased to produce 130,000 cubic metres of softwood logs per annum. By July 1995 the roof truss business had been phased out. It was no longer a major part of the company's operation and Boral increasingly found itself in direct competition with its customers in this division.
  An overturned timber jinker.